Humans have a need to read

I think that most bookworms believe that they would die without books (you won’t I assure you) and before this blog I was suffering from a severe case of bookbimboistitis but I thought it would be interesting to share an article I read in the guardian. The full article can be seen on this link, but I’ve pasted an extract out of it. (Copyright for the following extract- the Guardian and Gail Rebuck)

“Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories. They found that “readers mentally stimulate each new situation encountered in a narrative”. The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life to create a new mental synthesis. Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways.

The discovery that our brains are physically changed by the experience of reading is something many of us will understand instinctively, as we think back to the way an extraordinary book had a transformative effect on the way we viewed the world. This transformation only takes place when we lose ourselves in a book, abandoning the emotional and mental chatter of the real world. That’s why studies have found this kind of deep reading makes us more empathetic, or as Nicholas Carr puts it in his essay, The Dreams of Readers, “more alert to the inner lives of others”.

This is significant because recent scientific research has also found a dramatic fall in empathy among teenagers in advanced western cultures. We can’t yet be sure why this is happening, but the best hypothesis is that it is the result of their immersion in the internet and the quickfire virtual world it offers. So technology reveals that our brains are being changed by technology, and then offers a potential solution – the book.

Rationally, we know that reading is the foundation stone of all education, and therefore an essential underpinning of the knowledge economy. So reading is – or should be – an aspect of public policy. But perhaps even more significant is its emotional role as the starting point for individual voyages of personal development and pleasure. Books can open up emotional, imaginative and historical landscapes that equal and extend the corridors of the web. They can help create and reinforce our sense of self.

If reading were to decline significantly, it would change the very nature of our species. If we, in the future, are no longer wired for solitary reflection and creative thought, we will be diminished.”

What are your thoughts lovely readers?


4 Comments to “Humans have a need to read”

  1. Very interesting, and something I have both read up on similar ideas, and have also witnessed this happening with the teenagers I teach. I think it’s very true – you can already see the way technology is changing the brains of these teenagers who are only ten years younger than me, and as I said to one of my more academic classes last year “it’s not that there is anything essentially wrong with technology, for you’re wiring your brains to be able to do things from a young age that previous generations never had access to so young – what’s concerning is what you’re NOT doing as a result. Give yourself time to read books AND spend time with technology, and you have an unbeatable combination.” Unfortunately, I think on the whole the average population is reading a lot less, and there are even kids in my academic classes who admit to not reading much. I think we have to shift a focus back to reading with future generations, but how the heck we do this and make it interesting for them, I am not entirely sure. But I think it maybe starts at home – I know when I one day have kids, they will be growing up with Roald Dahl, just as I did! 😛

    • I notice the difference in myself. When I was younger (admittedly I wasn’t at university with a job) and the internet hadn’t really taken off yet/ it hadn’t quite taken over our lives as it now has I would read big books, thin books, medium books, everything under the sun. Now that the internet is the all-consuming presence in my life I read a lot a lot faster and probably more widely but I have to make a conscious effort to actually read books and not just endless short stories, articles blogs etc. I read faster but my attention span is much shorter. My children will thus have to grow up without the web for as long as I can manage it 🙂 Roald Dahl all the way! 🙂

  2. Remember that old saw “Reading is fundamental?” It looks like that one’s been proven by the power of SCIENCE! [/XKCD moment] I honestly cannot say I’m surprised by this revelation; you can see it happening when a kid is introduced to reading, they start thinking a little bit differently than before, and the changes stick…usually…

    What does get my attention is the science behind it. “Seeing” how it works like that was fascinating. The fact that it rewires the brain—man, it’s like science fiction. I can’t help but wonder if someone could use this for the greater good. …if it were weaponized, though, there’s a scary thought!

    • I love how your mind works- yes if it were weaponised I imagine it would end up being quite the greatest discovery ever- for better or for worse though? As humanity seems to make so many things negative!

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